Chinese Head Tax Receipt

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Chinese Head Tax Receipt
Issued by the Canadian Immigration Branch. Vancouver, August 2, 1918.
Courtesy Vancouver Public Library, photo #30625.

Chinese immigrants first came to Canada in the late 1850's to work in the mines and build the railway. By the mid 1870's anti-Chinese groups had formed and pressure mounted to curtail Chinese immigration. In 1885, the Canadian government passed the Act to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada. This law imposed a $50 head tax — a fee charged to those of Chinese origin seeking to enter Canada.

In 1901, the Canadian government raised the tax to $100 and appointed a Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration, which concluded that Chinese immigrants were, "obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state." In 1904 the tax was increased to $500, a serious financial burden at the time. In 1923, the Chinese Exclusion Act abolished the head tax, replacing it with more restrictive measures. Families of men working in Canada were barred from immigrating, resulting in the long-term separation of families.

By the time the Act was repealed in 1947, it had restricted Chinese immigration so successfully that only 9 Chinese people had entered Canada as legal immigrants. Afterwards, they were placed in the same category as other Asians and only the wives and minor children of Canadian citizens were permitted entry. By 1949, the long awaited unification of families was underway. A new immigration act of 1952 gave the Governor-in-Council unlimited power to exclude people based on their ethnic group, or on their assumed inability to assimilate.